All posts by jodikoslowmartin

My Heart is Full

by Jodi Koslow Martin

As the first week of classes comes to an end, those of us in student affairs see the conclusion of welcome activities.  Bridge programs, peer leader training, move-in days, dropped classes, added classes, opening convocations…you name it, we’re certainly always in charge of it.  These are days filled with utter exhaustion, what may be called the “good tired” if our experience has an element of fulfillment to it.  And, sometimes, these are days when hope and promise meet glitches and snafus as our smiles get bigger and wider to hide the 15 things that haven’t gone as planned.   It’s in these very days that begin another academic year, affording us the opportunity to bring higher education closer to true equity and inclusion.

I am starting my fourth academic year as a senior student affairs professional at a small, urban Christian university.  This last week led me to a positive place of feeling like I fit in. Odd to say, isn’t it?  Yet, it has taken three full years. There are certainly some realizations that help this situation including a palpable spirit of collaboration at the faculty development retreat of student affairs professionals and faculty working together, a retention rate worthy of attention, and a diverse student affairs staff who are bright, creative, and extremely competent.  Fitting in took some time because as I was being collaborative — a value in feminist leadership I prioritize — I was minimizing my own competency.  Oftentimes I thought that when I heard dissent, it made me think that I must be wrong.  Or, if I shared an opposing viewpoint, I had to think twice because maybe my perspective was off.  Why would I do this?  Was it a lack of confidence? I had thought it was because I didn’t fully understand the culture of my institution.  But, now, I am the culture of my institution.  I’ve carried who I am into this place as I hired and formed staff into being the mentors, educators, and caring individuals.  I’ve carried being a Catholic, female leader into an Evangelical Christian institution where my new student worker felt like he had to ask in a hushed tone, “You’re really Catholic?”  I’ve carried my interest in knowing students deeply into a commitment to know the students who work in our offices and to eat in the cafeteria once a week so that I can start new relationships on a regular basis.  I’ve carried my understanding of leading student affairs into the conversation about student learning outcomes.  I’ve carried my identity and integrity, as Parker Palmer would say, into this sacred space of education.

But, you see, I’ve been carrying it all along.  It didn’t just happen, of course, but it did take 3 years to realize it.  And, it’s not something that can be quantified that led me to this realization.  It came from the heart first.  My heart is full as I think about the impact of the student affairs educators have in the lives of students. My heart is full with the promise of a new academic year.  My heart is full as I recognize that I have the wisdom that comes with time and experience and a love of learning that will keep us continually looking for innovative ways to show we care for our students.  My heart is full because the work is bigger than me, bigger than any one person but it is in the work of student affairs that I, and so many others, can find a place where they fit in because they are being their true selves.

“Be a woman.  Seek and work only for what is life-sustaining. Don’t just change with the times, let the times change because you are present.  Make a difference.” –Mercy Amba Oduyoye

Go High, Not Low

by Jodi Koslow Martin

Last night, I got a text from my friend Kate that simply said, “Love Michelle!!”  I knew she was talking about the First Lady’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.  I hadn’t been watching as I was getting my daughter ready for bed and for the next day’s session of vacation bible school.  After I texted Kate back, she said she had been doing the same with her two girls but encouraged me to watch.  Chills, is what she wrote back, predicting the feeling I’d get when I watched.  Indeed.  Chills and tears, as I wrote back to Kate this morning, after watching the speech in my office.

A number of the lines from The First Lady’s speech align with how we’ve discussed the concept of feminist leadership on this blog.  We certainly are better together.  Yes, things are so much bigger than any one person and yet everyone has to know and feel they matter.  And the ceiling is ready to be broken.  Then, of course, there’s Ms. Obama’s line that has been getting much of the public’s attention.  She and her spouse have taught their children that when others “go low, we go high.”  Yes, yes, yes.

In our work in higher education and in these summer months of sunshine, performance appraisals, and a few less meetings, can we commit to a life of “going high?”  As we work with our orientation leaders and welcome new students, are we talking with new students with the kind of “decency and grace” the First Lady referenced about her spouse’s work when these new students missed a deadline or seem not to have read the information we sent them?  How do the sentiments of the social justice movements not just influence the big waves of activism on our campuses but also the everyday interactions of crafting a thoughtful email or responding to a co-worker?  Michelle Obama’s speech weaved the inspirational with the everyday within a framework of reflection and a call not to give up on the future.  The mention of her daughters getting into the car to go to school and waking up every morning in a house built by slaves shows how the history of individuals’ actions chart the course for others in unimaginable ways.  Who we are today is who our students see as the models of their futures.  When we, as student affairs professionals, show students love and compassion and hold them accountable we are getting them ready for the future.  But holding students accountable without love and compassion is not worthy of our efforts.  Are we teaching students how the academy, a space in which elitism is often fueled by tenure-tracks and terminal degrees, need not feel cold because in an educational space where the student who was not born in one of these united states, and the student who has spent time in camouflage in a desert, and the student who has only attended private schools are all welcomed?  And, we welcome all of them because at their core they are all students.  We have opened the doors of higher education so that these three and many others could learn together.

What is often difficult during an election season is that we surround ourselves with those who think like us.  It’s hard to hang out with those we characterize as going low. Sometimes we tiptoe around politics at family gatherings as we don’t want to go “there.”  Are we doing this at work, too? Everyone’s perception, as we all know, is certainly not the same.   And, feminist leadership is not about getting a group of people with black, brown, and white skin around the table who politically all align and have a similar understanding of education.  Feminist leadership in student affairs and in higher education is the other parts of the First Lady’s speech.  The parts of not taking the easy way out, of not giving up, of being steady and measured.  All of us have to work with people who are not like us and do things differently.  How do we lead with those different from us?  Do we avoid it or do we embrace it?  I find myself wanting to jump in and fix things immediately. Yet, my job has taught me that the steady and measured approach is the most successful.  It’s the continuity of trying every day to begin centered, to not get (too) angry, and to remember to be kind, loving, and caring.  Be graceful and decent as a means of showing steadiness and decency.  Hard, hard work.  Hard work we must do to be models for students.  And, for me, there but for the grace of God I go. 

 

Choosing a Cause: A Reflection on Orlando

by Jodi Koslow Martin

It takes time to fully process any tragedy. When it is the mass shooting that happened in Orlando, we read how others respond. For many of us, reading others’ responses and listening to the news reports becomes all-consuming. It is for me.

How should I, as an individual, respond? How should the Christian university where I work respond? In reading the updates on Facebook, news sites, my twitter feed, and listening to NPR, I am left to believe that I should take up a cause. Or causes. And all are noble and worthy. We should pray. We should favor stronger gun control laws because there are more places to buy a gun in the United States than there are Starbucks in the world. We should end homophobia. We should be appalled by the possibility of the Republican candidate becoming president.

Yet, I am a pragmatic dreamer, if there ever was such a thing. So, I am choosing a cause and I invite you to join me. Let’s choose the cause of higher education.

In colleges and universities, especially those committed to the liberal arts, we see the impact of education. Students become critical thinkers and, at an even more basic level than describing the kind of skills they develop, they are exposed to new ways of understanding people that make a real difference and develop their character. It is in our classrooms, in the residence halls, in the cafeteria, in the diversity office, in chapel, and on the playing field that students experience people different from themselves. Campuses committed to recruiting and retaining students of color, students on the spectrum, students who identify as LGBTQ, students who were born in another country, students of various socio-economic statuses, students who are practicing Christians, students who follow Islam…it is in the spaces where all these students come together around the common goal of pursuing a bright future where the most impactful education takes place. It is in these spaces where students see their peers not as “others” but as friends and as community members. To stop having others feel like “the other,” we have to commit to inclusion and equity not because these words are trendy in higher education or politically correct but because it is how America the Beautiful stays home of the free. And, we may be encouraging students to consider something different than what was taught by their families or past teachers. We may be exposing them to ideas that are not their understanding of truth. Our cause is to walk alongside students as they walk alongside each other in their education and in the pursuit of their dreams — dreams that should live on in thriving communities rather than in a society desensitized to the phrase “mass shooting.”

Those at Pulse in Orlando were in a safe space. In the club, these individuals were free of being judged. Those who lost their lives lose them in utter fear. To add to the devastation, their families now have a record of this fear.

Why do we embrace feminist leadership? Because if we accept the core concepts of feminist leadership — to bring together all voices, to foster collaboration — we are preparing safe spaces. As I reflect upon Orlando and think about my work as a Christian educator, I find that God’s work can be done in memory of those who lost their lives in Orlando. We commit to providing safe spaces for our students to ask questions, to figure out how to engage in inquiry, to not be fearful, and to be their best and most authentic selves.

“We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

Care and Competition

I recently watched Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk called What Makes a Good Life: The Longest Study on Happiness.  I’m going to go ahead and spoil it for you; the answer lies in good relationships.  At the core of these relationships is their ability to dispel feelings of loneliness.  Waldinger offers an example that the couple married for many years may still bicker on a daily basis but the quality of the relationship does not lie in petty arguments.  If both spouses trust the other to offer support when things get really tough, then the relationship is a good one. 
 
I think of this TED talk as I have been thinking about Ann-Marie Slaughter’s Book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family.  The authors of this blog selected Slaughter’s book as a selection for our Women’s Leadership Book Club (sure, I’ll capitalize the name of our unofficial group).  Slaughter’s article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,  in The Atlantic was one of the first pieces that got us all talking and was the premise for our ACPA presentation a couple of years ago.  As I dove into our selected text, I was having a really difficult time relating to the description of Slaughter’s journey.  She left a highly intense political appointment to return to an administrative appointment at Princeton.  It was in her return to Princeton that she decided that women couldn’t have it all.  Her circle of professional colleagues wondered if she couldn’t hack it in Washington and her weaknesses led her back to her family.  One must admit returning to Princeton does not sound all that terrible, nor does it sound like a cake walk.  It was this part of Slaughter’s story that framed her plight that I found, truthfully, not much of a plight at all.  And, her story led to think that Slaughter views work in higher education as cushy.  Sure, it likely is compared to politics in Washington.  Yet, I felt she inadvertently dismissed the challenges of working in higher education.

Continue reading Care and Competition

Another Reason Not to Like the Word…..Bloat

by Jodi Koslow Martin

I am sensitive to a few issues in higher education. When I say “sensitive,” I mean there are a few matters in higher education that are incredibly important and incredibly challenging at the same time. From my own research, I’ve become sensitive to getting first-year students enrolled in classes taught by full-time faculty in their first semester of college. I’m sensitive to the needs in the lives of Resident Hall Directors; to live and work in the same place can make it really difficult to set essential personal boundaries. And, of late, I am extremely sensitive to the critique of higher education that the cost of college is so high because of administrative bloat. I already had an issue with the word ‘bloat’ for obvious reasons. The basis for my current touchiness to this word relates to my personal experience as a vice president at a small, private institution.

Continue reading Another Reason Not to Like the Word…..Bloat

Women of December

by Jodi Koslow Martin

A couple of weeks ago, the bloggers of this site got together on GoToMeeting to do what we do – discuss a book we’ve chosen related to feminist leadership. We had chosen Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington. The participant with the newborn was too tired to be on the call. Completely understandable as all of us have been in her shoes. Another was talking to us from the car after fitting in a haircut before picking up her son. She was about 100 pages into the book. I had also read about 100 pages, too. I had borrowed it through interlibrary loan but didn’t finish it before the due date. It traveled with me in my purse for a few weeks before I shoved it through the book repository of the library. Then, I ordered it on Amazon.com. Instead of trying to be a good steward of my resources, my packed schedule left me with a library fine and a credit card charge. Then, the PhD student of our group was listening to the book on audio while out on her runs. To make sure she finished in time for our meeting, she made the reader talk so fast she could barely understand what was being read to her. Lastly, our pregnant participant held up her book to show us that the binding was pristine. She hadn’t opened it yet.

Continue reading Women of December

Looking for a Job in Student Affairs? Show Your Potential

by Jodi Koslow Martin

Last week, I stayed late after work for a panel discussion on immigration, hosted by our Office of Diversity. Two of the speakers on the panel are current faculty members at my newest employee’s graduate school. NE (New Employee) is finishing up his dissertation, in his early thirties, and has been married for a couple of years. I asked NE if he wanted to go to dinner before the panel discussion and invited his spouse to join us. The restaurant I chose was near their apartment so I drove NE and his spouse met us there. In the car, NE noted that if we were in the late 1950’s, Mad Men era I would be a man and we would likely be going to his house where his wife would likely have made dinner for us. NE is right…this picture would have likely looked different 60 years ago. My gender was a noticeable factor in the context of this situation.

While I could write many blog posts on Mad Men gender politics (and how the residual effects are still subtly alive and well), I want to note how I appreciated that NE noticed the context of the situation, and that he was able to do so in an appropriate-for-the-moment way. Continue reading Looking for a Job in Student Affairs? Show Your Potential

Musings of a Vice President

 

Lights.different

By Jodi Koslow Martin

One of the pleasures of reading a blog is to get to know its author. If you read consistently enough, you get a sense of who she is and seeing if her experiences align with yours.  It’s been fun for those of us writing this blog to see what gets shared, what gets comments, and what gets people thinking.

To share a bit more about myself, I am coming up on finishing my first full year as a vice-president. There is a part of me that wants to write, “well, I work at a small school so it’s not a real vice-president position.” What? How about that for listening to nothing my co-bloggers have written so far? Then, there’s another part of me that wants to share with you that this year as a vice-president has been so different from every other year of my career. Vice presidents are the people I used to talk about…all the time. I used to analyze what they thought, what they did, what they said, what I thought they believed. Ugh. How is it possible that anyone would care to give serious thought to what I think? Who am I? And again…am I even reading this blog? But, then, I think again. I’ve worked towards this position and I’m proud to have it. Right?!?! Damn straight. The job fits my skill set and my love for higher education. I often think using the word “passion” for working with college students is overused; I, on the other hand, have a love for higher ed. I believe in it for its transformational power and am committed to it in spite its imperfections. Look at that. I’m in a committed relationship with higher education.

My friend, Jennifer Keup, recently posted her review of the book, Composing a Life. I love the idea of “composing a life.” We are all composing our lives. As we think about composing our careers in higher education, we may find that we thread together a bunch of experiences (and sew them up into a neat resume) and discover where we make the greatest of contributions in higher education. I’m finding that leadership in higher education comes together in large parts in the meetings we have, in the tones of our voices, and in making appearances. In Composing a Life, Bateson spends some time reflecting upon an instance where someone mentioned the pastoral role of an academic dean. Her colleague was referring to the listening, consoling, counseling, and ministering parts of leadership rather than to a bucolic way of living life.  One day after I read this section, a colleague of mine offered me advice to try to be more pastoral with staff. Working on a Christian campus, being pastoral is something many are familiar with.  The term “pastoral” struck me, admittedly not in a positive way at first. Yet, it resonated with me how Bateson managed to put the pastoral comment in context; she offered that being nurturing can include both concurring and agreeing with someone as well as offering a realistic version of the truth. She’s spot on. I’m continually striking the balance to sit next to someone and listen intently and quietly with clearly laying out my expectations and vision.

All of this is part of my reflection — a year into this job as vp — of my continual journey to be an authentic leader. I’ve mentioned authenticity a few times in past blogs and I still connect with the concept. It’s only in being most genuine do I find that people can trust you. Just last week, I made a new hire. I always begin interviews with candidates who will be direct reports with breakfast and then end the day with the candidate to assess what she or he has learned. One candidate recently told me at the end of the day, “So…you’re different.” Yes I am. There is only one way for me to be VP and it’s as me. I know no other way. I have to keep that in mind. And, I like being different. So much so that I hired the person who noticed.

To Cry or Not to Cry? That is the Question.

by Jodi Koslow-Martin

I cried at work last week. Not the “close your office door to release the tears of being overwhelmed” kind of cry… though those can be cathartic. Not the “I just found out something sad” cry. My tears were shed with my peers who, at this point, are other vice presidents and the president of my institution. In my career, the cries that I’ve experienced in front of someone who is, organizationally, at the same level or higher than me have been caused by the same reason. It’s injustice. Let me say that I don’t use the word “injustice” lightly. The reasons and the details in the moments I have shed tears are not the same but when I see what I perceive as unjust action at my workplace, my eyes and my cheeks get wet.

I would not classify myself as a crier. I worked at my last institution for almost 14 years and cried in front of my boss in that job twice. Once, I was upset a group of us were discussing an employee with some critique when I knew she had the evolving, unbearable reality of a child who was losing a battle with a terminal illness. Where is the justice, I thought, in critiquing a person job’s performance when she was living life’s worse nightmare?

Continue reading To Cry or Not to Cry? That is the Question.

Fill the Confidence Gap with Confident Hope

by Jodi Koslow Martin

I really like the magazine, The Atlantic. It delves deep into topics that are of interest to me and has some good writing. I’m a fan of Variety Fair, too, for the same reasons. It is The Atlantic, though, that retreats from the celebrity arena and instead has had some pretty interesting cover stories on women and gender. Ann-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Jean Twenge’s “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” And, now “The Confidence Gap” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. If you are reading this blog, you likely have experienced the confidence gap. You may have refrained from applying for a job or pursuing a promotion because you thought you weren’t ready for said job or promotion. Then, when you got the job or promotion, you may have thought, “Wow, the candidate pool must have been pretty small.”  And, you have likely never said the following words: “Yeah, I got that job because I know I was better than everyone else.” The confidence gap is the idea that women have significantly less confidence than men. In turn, the argument that women aren’t at the upper echelons of power is due, in part, to our lack of confidence.

This idea reminds me of a meeting I was in this week. I was at the table with all the vice presidents of the university (I am one of them) and the president. The only other female vice president was not there. I noticed it instantly. Continue reading Fill the Confidence Gap with Confident Hope